In the forefront of legal news today is the Glossip v. Gross death penalty challenge / lethal injection case before the Supreme Court. Set for oral argument today, the Justices must determine if Oklahoma’s use of the common surgical sedative midazolam fails to make prisoners unconscious during lethal injections, violating the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
According to ProPublica, the case took a turn when Oklahoma’s pivotal witness, Dr. Roswell Lee Evans, testified in trial that inmates “would not sense the pain” of an execution after receiving a high dose of midazolam. That, in and of itself, is not enough to turn heads but legal and medical professionals took note when Dr. Evans, a board certified psychiatric pharmacist and the dean of the Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University in Alabama, testified that he has never used midazolam on a patient, nor has he ever personally induced anesthesia.
To make matters worse, 150 pages of his 300 page expert report were printouts from the consumer website Drugs.com, whose disclaimer reads, “not intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.” Furthermore, pundits were grumbling at the fact that Dr. Evans had not published a paper related to his pharmacology research since 1996.
Last month, a brief was filed by 16 independent professors of pharmacology disputing Dr. Evans’ claim. The professors, according to Probublica, contended that, “It is widely recognized in the scientific and medical community that midazolam alone cannot be used to maintain adequate anesthesia…”
Once general competency is satisfied, an Expert Witness’ knowledge of the subject matter affects the weight and credibility of his testimony. Since a general rule of evidence is that a witness may only testify to what they have personally observed or encountered through their five senses, this “Sunday Pundit” is concerned for the good doctor. His lack of experience with the midazolam, his unreliable sources, and his lack of peer support do not bode well for him or the state of Oklahoma.
Ponder the The Daubert standard for evaluating the reliability and relevance for “good science” and make your own judgment:
1) whether the scientific theory can be (and has been) tested;
2) whether the scientific theory has been subjected to peer review and publication;
3) the known or potential rate of error of the scientific technique; and
4) whether the theory has received “general acceptance” in the scientific community.
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